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Forum focuses on firearms violence as public health crisis
Town hall advances observations, activism
Published Thursday, August 15, 2019 11:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

A community forum Thursday at Johnson C. Smith University tackled the subject of rising firearms violence as a public health crisis.

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Malcolm Graham is honoring a promise to his sister.

Cynthia Graham Hurd was one of the nine parishioners fatally shot in Charleston at Emmanuel AME Church in 2015 by Dylan Roof, an avowed white supremacist. Graham, a former North Carolina state senator and Charlotte City Council District 2 candidate, founded the Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation for reading and civic engagement in response to her death. Graham and five other panelists addressed “Gun Violence: A Public Health Crisis” tonight at Johnson C. Smith University, including: Atrium Health Medical Director of Trauma Services David Jacobs, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns and Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement of activists addressing gun violence across the country.

“If lawmakers do the right things, we will have their backs,” Watts said. “If they do not, we will have their jobs.”

Said McFadden: “We have to be dedicated. Malcolm has to be. I have to be, but you have to be, too. Don’t wait until it happens to you, until you put on a red T-shirt [for Moms Demand Action].”

Hyatt expressed that “the legal gun buyer is not the problem. Something happens afterward,” referencing those who purchase weapons for sport, self-protection or collections. “It would be kind of stupid to buy an expensive gun and not take care of it,” he said.

When the floor opened up for questions from the audience, the response to gun violence in white versus black communities was raised.

“When it’s whites killing multiple whites, the alarm happens, but black people have been dealing with gun violence for years,” an audience member told the panel. “You never saw the alarm like you’re seeing it now.” The audience member questioned the “loophole” regarding background checks, noting that gun applicants can have a clean background and mental issues.

“What you do with the gun once you buy it, no one has control over that,” Armstrong said.

Said McFadden: “We check he medical history, but we can’t check your heart. We can’t check the level of your hate.”

Calling gun violence a public health crisis elicited backlash from organizations such as the National Rifle Association, which took to Twitter last November to admonish “self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have recorded 71 homicides as of Aug. 13, which tops 58 in all of 2018. The record is 129 in 1993 during the height of the national crack epidemic.

“This is our lane,” said Jacobs, who explained that approaching the issue from a preventative stance “changes how we look at it,” such as public pressure that sparked innovation in motor vehicle safety with seat belts and airbags.

“Gun violence is a disease,” Jacobs said. “It is passed like a cold, like the flu, from community to community. We know many of the causes of gun violence. We know many of the solutions to gun violence…the gun is a major contributor of gun violence.”

While Jacobs noted that the firearms themselves are part of the issue, the problem does not start and end with weapons.

“We can sit here and talk about guns, but that can’t be our only solution to the problem,” he said. “We have to look beyond that at other ways to solve this crisis.”

Said Adams: “It’s going to take the people to put the pressure on the Congress to do what’s right, because it’s right.”

McFadden, a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg homicide detective who was elected sheriff last year, pointed out that he has “never seen anything like this” in describing a situation that is “getting more violent and violent every day.” However, he pointed to an adage for guidance: “See something, say something.”

“Please don’t wait until it comes down your street,” McFadden said.

The panel discussion kicked off the weekend of the foundation’s tennis tournament Aug. 16-18, at the Marion Diehl Tennis Complex & Jeff Adams Tennis Center. Graham attended JCSU on a tennis scholarship, which he credited in large part due to Hurd’s encouragement.

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